Anyone who follows UK Burlesque will know of our featured artist this month. National Treasure Jolie Papillon is found consistently luxuriating towards the very top of the UK Burlesque Top 50 annual poll for 21st Century Burlesque. As Primp My Costume has been collaborating with her on a fabulous new act, using Swarovski from Crystal Parade, we had a chat to get some tasty insight into her incredible wardrobe and distinctive burlesque style.
Primping your costume
Charlotte Pacelli at Primp My Costume: You’ve recently unveiled a glorious new champagne glass prop, with a butterfly twist. Can you talk us through the design process? How do you store and transport it to shows?
Jolie Papillon (JP): Thank you, I'm very proud of my latest prop! This time last year I was offered to join the cast of ‘Party like Gatsby’ for the 2019/2020 tour with an adaptation of my Bathtub Burlesque act into a giant Martini Glass. The prop would have been made from scratch and my producer asked me to submit my own design.
I spent a lot of time in researching styles, asking knowledgeable friends for advice and enquiring prop makers who could deliver some artistic designs. I have a background in fine arts which came in handy, when at the beginning of the year I began sketching a few Art Deco ideas.
Another rather useful factor was my experience over the years of performing for corporate events in various hired glasses. We realised that for logistics and practicality we needed two glasses, one based in London, accessible to me, and one being on tour.
We submitted two of my designs, one of them is a beautiful Art Deco Martini glass, which has just been premiered in Wolfsburg and Stockholm. If one of the two had to belong to myself it definitely needed to have my signature burlesque style on it somehow...in the shape of butterflies, of course!
I'm quite fond of the Art Nouveau style, perhaps because it is heavily featured in my hometown in Italy where it's named Liberty style. Those soft, elegant and sinuous lines were often used in glass designs. In order to be true to its style, the glass had to be either a flute or a coupe. So for practical reasons guess which one I picked…
This process gave life to the opulent Champagne Coupe which is one of a kind! It is fully encrusted with thousands of gold stones adorning curvaceous lines. It’s going to be showcased for the next few months during my new residency at the London Cabaret Club as part of their new 1920s show.The glass that is currently on tour instead has beautiful art deco pattern features and it's also fully encrusted with crystals. With it we are touring Europe, the United States and beyond for the next eight months!
CP: I had no idea you had two made! Clever idea. Plus, I’ve learnt something new about the Art Nouveau Liberty Style – every day’s a school day. Let’s talk corsets. Your corsets in particular are really aesthetically impressive. What do you look for when working with a designer for a new stage costume?
JP: I have a love for a good corset! My main requirements are great mobility, dramatic curves and for it to be heavy duty. I am an energetic and flexible dancer therefore I need to be able to deliver my work at its best. A bespoke corset gives you the freedom to be supported and squished in the right place at the same time and it should emphasize your own unique curves.
When a corset is well made, it's for life...or almost! It's quite a financial investment, therefore it needs to survive hundreds of shows. I dance a full Can-Can in one of my favourite corsets made by my dearest friend Ian Frazer Wallace, so imagine how important a good corset is. I still remember how shocked I was when we had the last fitting, I couldn't believe how much I was able to move in it before it had become seasoned! In terms of crystal embellishment I do it mostly myself, as I still love to be involved in the making somehow, on top of creating general the concept and design of the whole costume.
CP: I remember having years of trial and error to find well-fitting and long-lasting corsetry when I started performing. Hang on to Ian, he’s precious! Moving on to look at imagery. Your promotional material is of a very high quality. If a newer performer were looking to have a shoot for fresh promo photos, do you have any tips on what to avoid?
JP: Don’t leave all the planning to the last minute. Plan your burlesque style in advance and research some reference images that inspire you. Try to get a good night of sleep! Photoshoots can be tiring and you want to look fresh. Drink a lot of water throughout the day and bring snacks.
Don't expect that the photographer is going to retouch costume flaws or iron your silk dress in post-production. It's important that you have a costume check and fix before the day.
The same with make-up and hair. It's important that before you book a photographer you're happy with his/her style. There’s various level of retouching which is related to each photographer's style and they might not want to compromise it with extra editing requests, unless agreed beforehand.
Be early - I try to prepare as early as possible. This is to avoid any problems with my journey or in case my makeup or hair is not going well that day and I have to start again. It happens!
So make sure to build in extra time for last minute issues, you'll be grateful should it all go to plan. Then you won’t be rushing to get changed and can enjoy the experience with your photographer. Agree beforehand your expectations in terms of final product, fee or if it's a collaboration, what the terms are for both parties.
Learn from the experts
CP: These tips are super helpful. Take note everyone to avoid crisis moments, I’ve definitely made some of these errors! You are currently involved in the production of both the Gin
House Burlesque with Miss Betsy Rose and Missy Fatale and Rat Pack Burlesque shows with artists like Didi Derriere and Bonnie Fox. The costuming for both shows looks exquisite. I’m interested in how the experiences differ for the audiences?
JP: They are very different shows! Gin House Burlesque is an absolute unique immersive experience inspired by the debauchery of the 1930s. Here the gin is flowing - beautiful showgirls draped in opulent gowns and feathers sing and dance among the crowd, leaving the guests feeling they've been transported back in time. They dress up to the nines for a night to remember!
The Rat Pack Burlesque show is a fine tribute to the most iconic singers of the 40s who made jazz standards legendary tunes, delivered with charms and jokes. It's combined with the key element of female movie stars from Hollywood and Las Vegas showgirls, crating the perfect cocktail mix.
Trends and Styles
CP: Both are most definitely on my ‘must see’ list. Finally, I’d like to get your opinion on an element of International performance. Have you have noticed a trend in the style of act or costume that tend to get requested in particular areas?
JP: I can see similarities among performers’ costumes in various countries I travel to. There is a sort of a trend connected to different areas. Personally I feel this might be influenced by the most popular costumiers in each location, who create some iconic styles within their own brand. Alongside this, performers are being influenced by each other’s costumes when working together on a regular basis. I can see this happening within London too, so I imagine it's natural.
I don't feel there's a trend requested by the producers in particular areas. As far as I've experienced, each producer usually favours some acts over others based on the theme or line-up. Producers request specific acts from my repertoire based on a particular show but I also get asked what I would suggest among my acts.
This is a great approach as gives trust to the artist. I too adopt this method when booking performers for my own shows. The common enquiries I get are about which act each producer finds most unique, and isn’t too visually similar to other performers on the line-up.
What a fabulous set of tips and thoughtful insight. A huge thank you to Jolie.
Keep up to date with Miss Jolie Papillon at the following;
Interview by Charlotte Pacelli (Liberty Sweet) - Director of costume makeover service @primpmycostume (IG/ Twitter/ Facebook) / co-founder of London’s leading Burlesque Troupe @thefollymixtures/ original Hurly Burly Girly for @misspollyrae
Photos by @vsanchorstudio